Peter Bodo's TennisWorld - Generation Who?
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Generation Who? 09/04/2007 - 5:23 PM

Aggie_2 Okay, this may not be quite enough to make you rush out and find a tutor to each your child Hungarian, but sometimes knowing an obscure language has certain advantages. for instance, you can ignore the subtitles pasted on that obscure film that won the Palm D'bore medal at the Tegusigalpa International Film Festival. You can speak the language and totally confuse that poor dude who calls to sell you vinyl replacement windows. If you're with a date in Manhattan's upper East Side Yorkville neighborhood, you can impress her by translating that sign that says, "Magyar Hentes" (Hungarian Butcher), and innocently ask if she'd like to squeeze a little sausage.

If you were out at the US Open, you could also talk to Agnes Szavay, the Blonde Bomber from Budapest, who meets Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals of the US Open tomorrow. Szavay  was a set up on Kuznetsova when she had to retire with a back injury in the New Haven final not quite two weeks ago, so a semifinal here is no outlandish idea.

It's been an eventful week-plus for Szavay. Her second-round match with Michaella Krajicek was scheduled for Court 4, 11 A.M., in the middle of last week. Both girls (who are friends and sometime double partners)  were out to the USTABJKNTC at around 7 AM, and they each had a warm up. Krajicek repaired to the locker room and Szavay went to double-check on their assignment, only to learn that the tournament referee had added "Not Before Four PM" to the schedule; the girls were all dressed up with no place to go - at least not for a solid seven hours.

"I went back to the locker room and went inside," Savay said, "I was laughing like crazy. Michaela was sitting there, all dressed up and ready to go. She said, 'What's so funny?' and I said, 'They changed the schedule without telling us. We're still first match - but after four!"

Then, before her fourth-round match with Julia Vakulenko, Szavay was told she couldn't go on court because of the sponsor logo on her visor. She also had to rush around, trying to find the chiropractor who has been working on her back since the New Haven event. It all worked out, though; Szavay dispatched Vakulenko in straights to set up her clash with Kuznetsova.

Szavay is part of a generation that has not been identified as such: her peers are Agnieszka Radwanska (who upset Maria Sharapova), Tina Paszek (who lost in the fourth rond to Anna Chakvetadze), Victoria Azarenka (who beat Hingis before losing in the fourth round to the Kuze), Michaella Krajicek and Nicole Vaidisova. "Nicole was right in there with the other girls, but she got so fast that she played fewer junior events," Szavay's coach, Zoltan Kuharsky, told me. "But she was definitely part of that group coming up."

So what we have folks, is a generation in search of an identity - a name. I'm open to suggestions, but for now I'll go for Generation Who(?) as in "Who's that Paszek girl?" The obscurity in which these girls labor undoubltedly has something to do with the preponderance of consonants in their names. And it's safe to say that while Radwanska is the hands-down Consonant Champ, Szavay is the least well-known of this unknown generation. 

These girls have been beating up on each other for years, and Szavay has given as good as she's gotten: in 2005,Szavay was upended in the Australian Girls' final by Azarekna (she was runner-up in the doubles as well), she won Roland Garros (singles and doubles), and lost at Wimbledon to Radwanska - but won the doubles. A solid WTA Tour result at Modena that summer  convinced Szavay to turn pro (she was 16 at the time), and when she lost in the main-draw qualifying for the US Open a few weeks later, she decided against sticking around to play the junior event. The decision may have cost her the ITF World Junior Champion title (Azarenka got that honor). Even so - Erik Siklos, a young guy who's already positioned himself as the Bud Collins of Hungarian tennis, tells me that Szavay would have been the ITF NO. 1 in singles - had the ITF not decided to count singles and doubles together in a cumulative official ranking.

No matter. All those girls are in the pros now, and suddenly Szavay is the one nearest the pace car, No. 15  Vaidisova. Szavay is No. 31, Radwanska 32, Krajicek  34, Azarenka 41 and Paszek 43. Man, if this were NASCAR, the vehicles would be flipping and the fireballs rising left and right!

Szavay's ranking is all the more impressive because of her recent history. In 2006,she lived - and played with - an undiagnosed case of mononucleosis. She was feeling depressed and getting her fanny tanned at every stop on the tour. Her ranking rode the Great Southern Highway, down to No. 290, by the time doctors figured out in June that she had Mono (my blood countrymen are better at tennis than medicine, I guess).

Given how easy it is to lose confidence and how hard it can be to regain it, Szavay may have been hit even harder in the mind than the body by the illness. Fortunately, it was at about this time that Kuharsky (who has coached Anke Huber and Ana Ivanovic) finally was free to work more closely with Szavay, a girl whom he had patronized and advised for many years.

He told me: "Nobody even noticed that Agnes was sick. For about six months (early in 2006) she wasa practicing, traveling, and losing - losing confidence and condition. She was feeling depressed. It was very, very tough on her emotionally, so in a way finding out that she had Mono was good news, because it explained all of her troubles. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off her chest."

During the first two months of their coaching relationship, Kuharsky says, he spent more time with Agnes in hospital rooms and clinics than on the practice court. About a year ago, she was barely able to walk up a flight of stairs, much less climb all those rungs on the rankings ladder. That she's been able to scamper back into the mix in such a short time is a testament to her resiliance, and that kind of flexibility is evident in her game as well.

"It's a strange way to put it, maybe, but in a way Agnes plays like a boy," Kuharsky says. "She's capable of doing lots of different things with spin and pace, and that's something you don't see that much on the women's tour."

Kuharsky believes that the propellant for Szavay's recent, fine results (coming into the US Open, she was in the final of her two previous events; she won Palermo and retired with back trouble in New Haven) has been a combination of increased maturity and a growth-spurt in her game. She worked through the divorce of her parents (her father works for a paint manufacturer), a change of managers, and an unsettled coaching situation (Kuharsky is officially her co-coach, with Jozsef Bolskay). All of which as had a settling effect on her.

Szavay has a terrific two-handed backhand that she hits with both pace and accuracy, and a penetrating serve that lacks only a slightly higher degree of consistency. Her forehand, once her weakest shot, has gotten much better, giving her a ground game that is very versatile (because her "feel" is so good) and difficult to attack. This is a girl who can think as well as simply blast her way to a W  - and in that, she certainly is a contrast to Generation's most well-known entity, Vaidisova.

With her blonde-verging-on-platinum hair (all natural, thank you very much!), sharply etched features and fair skin, Szavay cuts an attractive figure. And she is among the elite girls who don't wear all that cheesy off-the-rack Nike and Adidas gear; Szavay's tennis dresses are one-off unique creations of Marta Makany, a Budapest fashionista and designer.

Szavay has yet to play on Arthur Ashe, and she's looking forward to doing so for a reason that may not be obvious."I hope they give me a (US Open souvenir) towel. They haven't given me one yet, and I really want one.They give you towels at all the Grand Slams no matter what court you're on. But here, you don't even get one for being on Louis Armstrong. Just Ashe."

Oh those Generation Who kids, if it isn't one fad it's another!

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Posted by FiB 09/04/2007 at 05:28 PM


Posted by codepoke 09/04/2007 at 05:34 PM

You need to give us a Hungarian "Vamos" for her matches, Pete. :-)

If she's a thinker, and Magyar too, then I may have a new favorite player soon.

Posted by Language Master 09/04/2007 at 05:46 PM

Its "HajrÁ!"

Posted by Andrew Miller 09/04/2007 at 06:06 PM

She is awesome. Pacsek was also amazing during her match.

Posted by Myskina+Trains=Tolstoy 09/04/2007 at 06:12 PM

Isn't it common knowledge among the tennis cognescenti that Vaidisova is at least two years older than she and her people claim?

Posted by Andrew 09/04/2007 at 06:19 PM

"It's a strange way to put it, maybe, but in a way Agnes plays like a boy," Kuharsky says. "She's capable of doing lots of different things with spin and pace, and that's something you don't see that much on the women's tour."

Well, maybe she is the real thing - a tennis player. Maybe she is The One - The Woman Prophesied To End The Curse Of Bollitieri Bash.

Hopes are faint but flickering on this corner of the planet.

Posted by Nonny 09/04/2007 at 06:31 PM

"Szavay's tennis dresses are one-off unique creations of Marta Makany, a Budapest fashionista and designer."

Forgive me for being so shallow, as the entire article is good, but I have to single out this information to thank you for! I did notice her dress the other night and thought it was very nice, and it's interesting to know where it comes from.

Posted by Willie the Speare Shaker 09/04/2007 at 06:42 PM

Great post. I had pointed out before the tournament started that the "weak" bottom half of the draw wasn't as established as the top half, but that the 4 players I expected into the quarterfinals (Szavay, Kuznetsova, Chakvetadze, and Peer, that's right, 4 for 4) are younger than my 4 picks for the top half (Henin, Serena, Venus, Jankovic) by an average of something like 5 years. This tournament was the best chance for us to see who would be challenging Sharapova and Kuznetsova for slams once the last of our '03/'05 Big Four (Henin, Serena, Venus, and the recently retired Clijsters) retire. So far, all of them have shown what they're made of.

In a year, I wouldn't be surprised to see the top 20 half comprised of low/un seeded girls from the bottom half of the draw. Szavay has tons of room to add to her results at the start of the season, Paszek is up to 35ish with just 12 events on her year, Radwanska and Azarenka have some wiggle's an exciting time for women's tennis, as Venus (and kind of Serena) are resurgent, Henin is steady as ever, Kuznetsova is showing signs of life, the Serbs are coming, and Sharapova is still only 20.

Posted by jb 09/04/2007 at 06:51 PM

One of the cool things about the lopsided draw (the only thing imo) is being able to see some on the young guns on the WTA side. How come they don't have a label like the men do/did? Someone more creative than I needs to name them.

They're going to be giving the top players a run for their money, as they're all coming up en masse and apparently, are rarein' to go.

But geesh - sharapova is only 20? seems like she's been around for ages.

Posted by tommy 09/04/2007 at 07:23 PM

This is most lopsided draw I've ever seen. If Szavay and Peer were in the top half, they would be long gone.
Ivanovic is gone from there.
Screwed up draw makes it a matter of sheer luck, who's still alive in week 2.

Posted by Ruth 09/04/2007 at 08:02 PM

M+T=T: I've often heard people say that Vaidisova is older than the record says; but, to me,the opposite seems to be true: she seems to me to be younger and less mature (in her behavior, interviews etc) than her official age would indicate.

It's nice to see pleats making an appearance on Venus's dress and Szavay's. Some youngsters on a tennis forum I read regualrly many years ago used to call all of the players they considered "older" (Sanchez-Vicario, Conchita Martinez etc) Pleats because pleats were an omnipresent part of tennis dresses years ago.

Posted by Ren 09/04/2007 at 08:40 PM

GENERATION CYBER. Yeah. I'd like to call these girls' generation, cyber: young, fast, techno-savvy, and promising. Btw, are the two Anna's included here?

Posted by Elevennis Anytwo? 09/04/2007 at 08:42 PM

Great info herein. We can only hope that this post-communist, iron curtain-less generation emulates those former residents of the Eastern bloc, the two Martinas, Navratilova and Hingis. Alas, it seems no matter which woman is playing these days, there is too much power and too little skill to allow for long rallies and entertaining tennis. I hope I'm wrong.

Posted by Sher 09/04/2007 at 08:48 PM

Wow, culture clash: I nearly snorted tea out of my nose when I read 'her fanny'. LOL (Yes, I know it means 'butt' in American English.)

Posted by Andrew Miller 09/04/2007 at 09:13 PM

Vaidisova has a hitch in her forehand.

Posted by Travis 09/04/2007 at 10:45 PM

Her tennis "dresses" look like she got them in the discount bin at Filene's Basement...

Posted by svelterogue 09/04/2007 at 11:38 PM

a towel fad is still cute no matter how you look at it :)
even roger has a collection of wimby towels he took that were never given to him.

i'll be watching you, ms szavay. may you go from strength to strength.

Posted by Ali C (Feelin' the Allez!) 09/04/2007 at 11:43 PM

Nice post, Pete.

There is one Lil' Alize Cornet who might be worth a look, too. In the three matches I've seen her play, she strikes the ball very well and is a gutsy competitor. She'd fit right in with these girls - really gave Jelena a run for her money in the third round.

That said, I'm loving seeing some new faces inthe bottom half of the draw. It'll be interesting to see how the Old Guard react as these girls get better and better.

Posted by 09/05/2007 at 01:49 AM

whats with all the mono? ancic had it, vaidisova had it and Szavay had it. its the kissing disease right? has ancic turned all 'ladies man' suddenly?

Posted by evenstrain 09/05/2007 at 02:21 AM

Generation Zed (Zed's not dead, man).

Posted by Rich Grace 09/05/2007 at 03:31 AM

Ali C: based on Shrieky's presser after Radwanska handed her her head, I think the Old Guard probably won't be too happy.

Language Master: cripes, that's funny! How about a phonetic pronunciation to go with that? It looks unpronounceable!

I like seeing all these new girls. Maybe the USTA knew what they were doing after all. God knows women's tennis could use some more depth. It's also a good illustration of why tennis is such a fabulous international, multicultural sport.

Posted by superSnark 09/05/2007 at 03:39 AM

Serena is such a sour loser - NEXT!

Posted by Fedexfan 09/05/2007 at 03:42 AM

A similar article on the USO site on Eastern European girls:

Posted by Philip 09/05/2007 at 08:04 AM

In honour of Szavay, I think I am going to pass by my local Hungarian butcher and imported food store. No seriously, there is one. I've been fascinated by the country since I visited Budapest exactly this time a couple of summers ago. I remember watching the US open from my hotel room overlooking the Danube and the gothic spires of the parliament building. Visit the House of Terror where the Nazis and the Communists tortured and executed their political opponents. The archival video footage and the ominous black phones that will send a shiver down your spine everytime they ring will really put the past in perspective for you. I think it changed my life.

Posted by the droppa 09/05/2007 at 08:06 AM

Generation Zsa? :)

Posted by Suresh 09/05/2007 at 09:56 AM

"I went back to the locker room and went inside," Savay said, "I was laughing like crazy. Michaela was sitting there, all dressed up and ready to go. She said, 'What's so funny?' and I said, 'They changed the schedule without telling us. We're still first match - but after four!"

Of course if you are not Venus, Serena, Sharapova etc. etc. what else would you expect from the organizers.

Posted by Fleaman 09/05/2007 at 11:01 AM

How about "K&K girls", as in "Konsonant & Konsonant", or, if you like it a bit stuffier, as in "Kaiserlich & Königlich", since they all hail from different corners of the old Austro-Hungarian empire - unless that's too Old Europe for you and/or their young democracies?

Posted by codepoke 09/05/2007 at 12:22 PM

Language Master:

Would that be pronounced like, "Higher-AH'"?

Posted by tommy 09/05/2007 at 02:27 PM

This bottom half was so weak. Peer and Szavay were incredibly lucky. 2 onesided quarters. Bad day for tennis.

Posted by ptenisnet 09/05/2007 at 02:31 PM

Generation WYZ.

Posted by nolene 09/05/2007 at 04:27 PM

Generation Zsa Zsa

Posted by Andrew Miller 09/05/2007 at 08:48 PM

Here's a dare, what are the chances that Mr. Bodo can get a magyar moment with Monica Seles at the US Open?

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